November 18, 2014 3:52 pm
Updated: November 18, 2014 7:29 pm

Calgary researchers investigate possible new treatment for depression

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CALGARY — Researchers say an experimental treatment for depression used in a study underway at the Foothills Medical Centre is showing promising results.

Deep brain stimulation (DBS) is being tested on people who have tried most other forms of treatment for depression without any success.

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“Deep brain stimulation has been effective in helping control tremors due to Parkinson’s disease and other movement disorders,” says Dr. Zelma Kiss. “But there has been little research to evaluate its effectiveness in people with treatment-resistant depression.”

DBS is a process in which surgically implanted electrodes deliver impulses to the brain.

“It doesn’t work for everyone but, for those who do see benefits, the improvements can be quite remarkable,” adds Dr. Kiss.

Early research indicates about half of people undergoing DBS will experience at least a 50 per cent decrease in the severity of depression.

Within that group, depression will almost disappear in half of those people.

The study is based out of the U of C’s Hotchkiss Brain Institute and Mathison Centre for Mental Health Research and Education.

Study participants undergo a six-to-eight-hour neurosurgery in which brain activity is analysed to determine the optimal location for implanting the electrodes. Then, a few days later, the patient has a second operation to insert a brain pacemaker under the skin of the chest to control the electricity delivered to the electrodes.

To date, four patients have been enrolled in the study; researchers are still looking for another 20 to take part. To be eligible, patients must have tried all other therapies for depression, such as at least four classes of anti-depressants, cognitive behavioural therapy, psychotherapy, electroconvulsive shock therapy or transcranial magnetic stimulation.

“Usually the people eligible for deep brain stimulation will have suffered from major depression for decades,” says AHS psychiatrist Dr. Raj Ramasubbu. “Often their depression is so debilitating that it affects every aspect of their lives. Family relationships suffer, work becomes impossible, and their overall quality of life is very poor.”

It’s estimated about one per cent of the population have treatment-resistant depression – about 10,000 people in Calgary.

For more information, contact the study coordinator at 403-210-6905.

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